Panama church uses soccer, dance to reach community
The Pan de Vida Iglesia del Nazareno in Panama City, Panama, is using soccer and dance to provide wholesome recreation alternatives for the youth in their community. The church leaders hope that their work spreads from the youth into the broader community.
Pan de Vida began with the sending of missionaries Marleydi Sánchez and Ingrid Jocholá as part of the Genesis Initiative in 2018. The duo serves in Los Libertadores, a community of eight apartment buildings that are 14 stories high each and are home to 1,000 families. When touring the towers, they realized that many of the residents are young people who are involved in drugs.
Carlos De Gracia and Gaby Salazar were later assigned as pastors to start a church in the area, and they began to reach out to local leaders, who immediately got them in contact with Sánchez and Jocholá.
During the pandemic, the Lord has been merciful to Pan de Vida.
“We were [approved to join] a national aid program, delivering bags of food to families in different buildings during the most difficult moments,” De Gracia said. “The supply we received was so great that we shared bags with other churches in our area.”
The church itself grew enough that it was officially organized in the midst of the pandemic during a virtual service in November of 2020.
The church resumed visits and face-to-face services in the community when the quarantine regulations ended. In the month of May, pastors realized that teenagers needed more than a simple lesson. In order to keep the youth away from many negative options available in their leisure, the church started classes for them during the week. They recorded themselves with their cell phones doing dances for TikTok, a popular social media app. The pastors contacted one of the leaders of the hip-hop dance movement in Panama, and they started basic breakdancing classes. This action helped the small group of five students grow into 16 teens who participated in discipleship every Friday while practicing their dances.
Another area where leaders could make inroads with the youth was through soccer. They decided to start soccer training sessions, taking advantage of the nearby athletic fields. With the Lord's help, four practices and a match have been held so far with 20 adolescent boys and 15 girls.
Through these projects, Pan de Vida has discovered that young people have many needs: healthy eating, health care, academic reinforcement, and even special psychological attention.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we know that God will give us strength,” De Gracia said. “Most parents see our church as a good option for their children to thrive. Our prayer is to be able to reach not only the kids but also their families and the community.”
This is an adapted version of a story that previously appeared in Transform the Globe, a discipleship blog by Nazarene missionary Scott Armstrong. To view the original, click here.